In valleys like the Gallatin, or her former home of Jackson Hole, where extroverts seize most of the star treatment, Tina Close will never belong to the taxonomic order known as social butterfly.
With a perpetual vantage on nature, she is a contented recluse, flitting out occasionally to some exotic destination on the other side of the world before retreating home, where she makes wonderful paintings of nature.
Close’s works are collected by an impressive list of fine art connoisseurs first drawn to her acclaimed botanicals, but well aware that Close has metamorphosed into yet another phase of creative exploration.
Her intricate art makes us appreciate the sweet, smaller things that are in front of us everyday. “My points of departure include the shapes of real animals, beetles and butterflies, but also extend to the ancient and antique,” she says.
“I have used 17th century Rajasthan bronzes, Victorian carrousel animals, Papua New Guinea skull racks, American Mimbres figures and antique effigy vessels, to name a few,” Close said. “The shape gets your attention, but all the action is on the inside.”Like the tapestry that is her life, Close inhabits an international iconography, and her reverence for primitive animal symbols informs her selection of imagery. A student of anthropology and botany, her vision has grown out of travels across Africa, Australia, Europe, and even spending time as a cowgirl and mother of two kids near Big Piney, Wyoming.
Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, she is the eldest daughter of free-spirited parents, Dr. William T. and Bettine Close, and has four siblings—all of whom are talented artists. She happens to be the sister both of actress Glenn Close and Gallatin Valley’s Jessie Close, an author and national speaker on mental health. She also is the mother of the vivacious and eminently talented Seonaid Campbell, a writer, filmmaker and photographer from Livingston.
Towering in Tina’s memory is a place down the road from where the Closes lived in a stone Connecticut farmhouse. There is a hillock with a favorite climbing tree and a slab of granite that cupped a depression where rainwater gathered. It harbored mosses, leaves, frogs, small insects and reflections of the sky—all elements that continue to surge through Close’s work.
It was in those rolling pastures and forests where Tina and Glenn acquired their own innate sense of Christopher Robin drama, she says.
“You’re always absorbing if you’re a visual person, but what I absorb now isinfluenced by my earliest visual experiences,” she said. “I love the texture of life. If I can smell and feel and see the texture of something, it becomes real to me.”
Everything in Close’s home revolves around textural cues, be they rocks, mats of lichen, or feathers molted from a talking African gray parrot named Kivu.
“I am inspired by Tina’s artistic explorations,” said Colorado landscape painter Skip Whitcomb. “She opens our eyes to elements of the natural world that aren’t always immediately visible. She takes the viewer on a vicarious adventure.”
It’s the raw genuine eccentricity of Tina Close that is part of her growing legend. “Glennie and I have a longstanding debate about who is weirder: artists or actors?” she said. “Everything my sister does in film or on the stage is collaborative, but being an artist is, by necessity, solitary, because you live in your own head. Every day I face a blank piece of paper, and I live with three dogs and two parrots. My conclusion is that being an artist is the stranger of the two professions because what you share is the image, but getting there you generally must create it alone.”
“Tina can be a hermit, consumed by whatever she’s working on and lose track of the outside world,” Jackson Hole art gallery owner Tayloe Piggott once told me. “When she emerges and takes research trips or visits with friends, she will absorb everything around her in a landscape, soaking it in like a sponge. She brings that vivaciousness into your life. But then when the urge to create strikes her again, and she retreats, letting the inspiration pour out of her in the studio, she stays with it until it stops.”
If you ever have an opportunity to encounter Tina Close and her work, it is a treat worth savoring.
Todd Wilkinson is founder of Bozeman-based Mountain Journal (mountainjournal.org) and a correspondent for National Geographic. He also is author of “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek” about famous Jackson Hole grizzly bear 399 featuring 150 photographs by Tom Mangelsen, available only at mangelsen.com/grizzly.